Myanmar approves first ever national minimum wage

Workers march during a protest to demand for minimum wage in Yangon in this July 12, 2015 file photo.
Workers march during a protest to demand for minimum wage in Yangon in this July 12, 2015 file photo. PHOTO: REUTERS

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar's government has approved the country's first ever national minimum wage, state media reported on Saturday, after months of bitter negotiations with labour groups and employers.

The wage has been set at 3,600 kyat (S$4) "for a standard eight-hour work day" and takes effect from Tuesday, said the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

It will apply to workers "across all sectors and industries" but small businesses employing fewer than 15 people will be excluded, it added.

Myanmar has seen a wave of protests for better pay and conditions, particularly among workers in the growing garment sector, after decades of direct junta rule came to an end in 2011.

The decision on the wage, announced by the National Minimum Wage Committee on Friday, follows several rounds of talks between the government, labour groups, employers and workers since a law approving its introduction was passed in 2013.

It comes as part of the plethora of political and economic reforms introduced under the quasi-civilian government that has also seen a growth in foreign investment, with big brands looking to move into the nation after most international sanctions were dropped.

But even the low sum reached had been vehemently opposed by some employers who claim that low worker productivity in Myanmar meant they could not afford to pay more.

Pressure to adopt a fair minimum wage has also come from outside with a number of Western manufacturers arguing that poor pay was counterproductive.

In Myanmar, employees had previously been demanding a minimum of 4,000 kyat a day with protests over wages outside factories in recent months seeing several labourers arrested in the ensuing police crackdowns.

In neighbouring Thailand, where an estimated two million Myanmar nationals form part of a vast migrant labour force, the national minimum wage is set at 300 baht (S$12) per day.

But rights groups say Myanmar migrants are often paid less than this amount, working in poor conditions and subject to exploitation.

Regionally, debate over improving factory conditions and worker pay has intensified since the deadly 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh highlighted appalling safety problems in the country's lucrative garment industry.